- A self-service kiosk option can cut down checkout wait times significantly.
- You'll still need an employee on hand to help customers with items that don't ring up properly or who have trouble using the equipment.
- More and more service businesses are installing self-service kiosks for contactless payments.
- This article is for small business owners considering implementing self-service POS kiosks in their establishments.
Every brick-and-mortar business must have a way for customers to pay for goods and services. While the traditional payment method of a cashier at a point-of-sale (POS) system terminal is still the most common, more businesses are implementing self-service POS kiosks. With self-service kiosks, customers can ring up their purchases and pay without a cashier's assistance.
Here's a breakdown of how self-service POS kiosks work so you can determine if this payment method is right for your business.
What is a self-service POS kiosk?
A self-service POS kiosk has much of the same functionality as a POS system managed by your staff members. A user can select products for sale on a touchscreen or scan products using a barcode scanner, and the system can add up quantities, calculate sales tax and accept payment.
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While retail POS kiosk hardware looks similar to POS systems in cashier stations, there are differences. POS hardware used in restaurants and other service businesses is usually self-contained and free-standing instead of mounted on a desk or counter. However, hotels and some sit-down restaurants use tabletop or countertop kiosks for customer self-service functions.
With self-service POS kiosks, some of the functionality ordinarily available to a cashier is accessible to an employee with login credentials. For example, the employee could intervene to change a price because of damage or unprogrammed promotions.
Which types of businesses use self-service kiosks?
Various business types are successfully implementing self-service kiosks. Here are a few examples.
- Retailers: Self-service kiosks are standard in grocery stores and big-box stores, where they typically exist side by side with traditional crewed cashier stations.
- Restaurants: Kiosks are found in many fast-food, fast-casual and casual sit-down restaurants, including Chili's and Applebee's, which have tabletop units.
- Ticketing businesses: Self-service kiosks are ideal for businesses that sell tickets, including movie theaters, transportation facilities and sports arenas. These self-service kiosk units print and dispense tickets in addition to presenting options and accepting payment.
- Businesses with appointment check-ins: While these aren't exactly POS systems because no payment is involved, self-service kiosks can streamline appointment check-ins for businesses like salons, hotels and doctors' offices.
Did you know? In a Tillster survey, almost two-thirds of customers said they would visit a restaurant more often if self-service kiosks were provided.
Pros and cons of self-service POS kiosks
Offering customers the option to do their own checkout has its advantages, but it's not suitable for every business type. Here's a look at the pros and cons of self-service POS kiosks.
- Shorter wait times: Since self-service kiosks usually take up less space than full-service lines, adding self-service kiosks can significantly boost the number of customers checking out at one time, shortening lines and wait times. Often, customers buying fewer products will opt for the self-service line, improving their satisfaction with the checkout process and resulting in fewer abandoned carts.
- Increased order size: Many kiosks can suggest complementary products and services, customization options, and upselling suggestions during the checkout process. The Tillster survey found that these order add-ons have been shown to increase average order size by 15% to 30%.
- Improved accuracy for special orders: When customers enter their own custom requirements, there is less chance of a mistake or omission. Customers also won't have to worry that they're perceived as "difficult."
- More efficient and fulfilling employee use: Since fewer cashiers are needed to operate POS stations, employees have more freedom. They can be redeployed to assist customers by answering questions, offering opinions and making suggestions. These interactions are less repetitive and more fulfilling and enjoyable for employees.
- Customer insights: CRM analytics built into your kiosk system can provide information about your customers and how they perceive your business and its products.
- Higher customer satisfaction: Whether it's the shorter wait time or the ability to purchase without interacting with others, kiosks tend to improve customer satisfaction.
- Contactless: In the age of COVID-19, many customers prefer less contact with other people. This is enhanced if the built-in credit card reader accepts NFC payments.
Did you know? After implementing tabletop self-order kiosks, restaurant chain Chili's increased its order size by 20%, according to The Atlantic – possibly because customers felt free to order what they wanted without fear of being judged by the server.
- Customer frustration: If a customer doesn't know how to use the kiosk, or it malfunctions, they'll probably be frustrated. Having an employee nearby to assist can offset this problem.
- Lack of flexibility: Large kiosks are difficult to move and may prevent a business from reconfiguring to meet changing needs.
- Potential for more shoplifting: When kiosks are left unattended, shoplifting incidents can increase. Offset this problem with other security measures, such as security guards, a video surveillance system or receipt checkers at the exit.
- Hardware or software failures: As with any technology, self-service kiosks are prone to occasional downtime. Be sure to keep on top of regularly scheduled maintenance.
- Expense: Depending on the kiosk type, buying and installing these machines can be a significant expense, with some costing up to $20,000.
- Complications with nonstandard transactions: If a purchase is complicated, a kiosk is not the best solution because customers may need to ask questions. Self-service kiosks are also not ideal for transactions that require age verification, such as alcohol sales.
- Impersonal method: Some businesses thrive because of warm interactions between customers and staff. If this describes your business, a self-service kiosk may not be for you.
- Vulnerability to hacking: Cyberattacks are a threat to kiosks. Attacks can happen through the company network, to the operating system or through kiosk applications. Kiosks running iOS are less vulnerable to hacking attempts, as are those implemented via cloud computing.
Tip: To minimize credit card security risks at self-service kiosks, make sure your system uses a chip card with a PIN or signature method for extra authentication.
Types of self-service POS kiosks
The type of self-service kiosk most people are familiar with is the large unit used by grocery stores and big-box stores. These machines have a relatively small touchscreen, a built-in barcode scanner, an integrated credit card reader, cash and change acceptance and dispensing functionality, a receipt printer, a small shelf, and a bagging area. These kiosks cost $10,000 to $20,000 each. Read our guide to choosing a POS system and software.
However, there are other kiosk setups for different uses.
- Self-contained kiosks with a large portrait order screen: Most of the real estate on this kind of kiosk is a giant touchscreen along with payment processing. It is commonly used for fast-food ordering.
- Tablet kiosks: Some kiosk POS software runs on tablets, such as iPads. iPad POS system setups securely hold the tablet in place and use a slim stand that's about chest-high. These are some of the least expensive kiosks, starting at less than $400 each.
- Ticketing kiosks: Since ticketing kiosks must have room for blank tickets and a built-in ticket printer – in addition to a touchscreen and payment technology – they tend to be larger, with a small or midsize screen display. They also tend to be rugged, because they are often installed outside a venue.
- Countertop/tabletop kiosks: These are portable and can be wireless, with a portrait or landscape orientation and sometimes built-in payment processing. They are the most affordable units, often used by casual sit-down restaurants and small businesses.
Did you know? BCC Research found that the self-service POS kiosk market in the U.S. is projected to grow from $185.5 million in 2020 to $485.9 million in 2025, an annual increase of more than 32%.
Top self-service kiosk picks
When you're searching for a self-service POS kiosk system, consider these options.
Most versatile: Lightspeed
The Lightspeed kiosk runs on an iPad, making it an affordable solution for small businesses. It has robust inventory management features, making it great for retail applications, but it also integrates with hotel property management software, so someone eating at a hotel restaurant can charge a meal to their room.
For restaurant applications, Lightspeed has a customizable tip-distribution feature and reservation module. Since it is iPad-based, it can be mounted in a floor stand or on a table or countertop; it can accommodate prepay with a free-standing setup, or customers can pay after they've been served when an employee places the unit on the table.
Read our review of Lightspeed for more information.
Best for restaurants: Toast
All of Toast's products are geared toward the restaurant and bar industry, so its offerings have plenty of industry-specific features.
The Toast kiosk runs on Android and has an intuitive touchscreen. It gives customers the ability to customize their orders and can send them a text when their order is ready. Since it's cloud-based, updating the menu as needed with daily specials or removing out-of-stock items is easy. Once an order is placed, the system automatically sends it to the kitchen display screens for quick fulfillment. It even encourages customers to sign up for loyalty rewards programs during checkout.
Contact Toast for pricing, or read our review of Toast POS for more information.
Best for retail (modular): Aila
The Aila self-service POS is a sleek, compact retail station that can be used in any small or large retail store, from convenience to big-box stores. It uses iPads and has a sturdy, attractive stand with two shelves (one for products and one for bagging) on which you can mount various compatible devices, including card readers and receipt printers.
Aila's system has a small footprint, so you can fit several if you have the space without it being too crowded.
Best for retail (integrated): Revel
Revel XT kiosks are fully integrated, so they're a turnkey solution. The software can upsell customers, split modifiers for customization and accept gift card payments. The interface can show beautiful photos and videos as backgrounds, as well as include product descriptions to help you sell more. The interface can also be customized with different fonts and colors.
If you offer limited options via the kiosk, you can have a kiosk-only menu to simplify ordering. The kiosk interface can also capture guest information to help you fill orders more efficiently.
Revel's software plans start at $99 per month per terminal and provide payment processing, but the company does not publish its hardware costs or processing rates online.
Best for ticketing: Advanced Kiosks
The Advanced Kiosks Ticket Kiosk is a compact ticket-printing kiosk with a 22-inch screen. It can print receipts and tickets three inches wide on thermal paper and has a free-standing base with wheels and a steel enclosure. (If you want tickets printed on ticket stock, there's an additional cost.)
The built-in stereo speakers enable you to play promotional videos or movie trailers to entice customers. Upgrade options include payment processing technology with an EMV credit card reader, a cellular modem, a barcode reader, and vinyl graphics and logo.